Yesterday morning, my mom died after a long, brave, and debilitating fight with Alzheimer’s. She would have been 69 this June 21st, the first day of summer.
I know the appropriate response to these sorts of events in our culture is to raise a glass or two, but as i don’t do that sort of thing, i’ve encouraged a number of friends to feel free to get completely loaded on my behalf.
I was with my mom at the end, as was her husband Dave. We had moved her up to an extended care facility here where we live just two weeks ago, from the facility she’d been in for the last year or so, close to where she and Dave had lived. We did this largely because we knew that she was coming to the end and we wanted her closer. My sister and her husband were over from Saudi Arabia, where they both work. The move went well, and gave my mom a chance to be together with her whole family for the first time in a long while.
And though we were hoping to have had more time with her, i think she knew that she was ready.
The somewhat convoluted details of my upbringing, my extended family, and my parents’ split in the seventh grade mean that very few of the people that have meant and continue to mean the most to me actually got to meet my mom. This is unfortunate, as she was a pretty cool person. She was an only child and a former tomboy, whose body was proudly covered in the youthful scars of having fallen out of (and in one story she loved to tell, being impaled by) one too many trees. She became a registered nurse straight out of high school, at a point in cultural time when a woman having a career was not only abnormal but actively frowned upon. Her example was a thing she took from my grandmother. My mom worked all her life even as she managed to raise a family and, much later, to take care of my grandmother when she was sick with leukemia.
My mom loved to travel. She loved the ocean. She loved to laugh. Through the seven years of her illness, right up to the end, this was the one thing — the only thing — that kept me going. The fact that even as this modern-day curse took away her memory, her speech, her physical strength, and finally her life, it couldn’t steal her laughter.
Nothing in this world, no force of life or fate or hatred would ever be strong enough to steal my mom’s laughter. Of all the things i take from her, of all the things i’ve learned from her, this is the one that means the most to me. This is the thing that i’ll never let go of
The tragedy of my mom and of all the countless people who have suffered what she suffered is that at some point, even as she was still laughing, she lost the ability to remember that she’d aways laughed. So i remember it for her, and i laugh for her, and i laugh with her, and i’ll never stop.